Boing beyond math to help students
Bob Webber remembers how much he used to hate math class. Of course, math is a subject that many students struggle with, but he recalls the classroom experience as being a main factor.
“It was one of those subjects where the classroom was always really quiet, the teacher did a lot of lecturing, and then you get kicked out of the room with a bunch of homework to do, but nobody really knew the homework,” Webber explained.
He knew he could do better and vowed that he someday would. And it would be that drive that would help Webber be named the 2022-23 Pamplin Media Group Amazing Educator for the Canby area.
“A lot of people, when they go into teaching, they pretty much teach the way they were taught. I’ve got the opposite of that. I went into teaching because of the way it was taught to me,” he said.
Webber has been teaching for nearly three decades, spending time with various students and grade levels. One commonality he’s noticed in all students throughout his career is that strategies that teach students to “repeat mechanics” rather than using their own approaches to solving a problem can be huge deterrents to learning.
“The older people get, the more mechanical they are in terms of trying to follow a particular procedure,” Webber said. “The younger they are, they’re completely open to looking at things differently and doing things differently. So, as they age, they become a little bit more focused or linear in terms of how they do things. And it’s really because of the of the way the system is set up.”
Webber has spent much of his career challenging these systems — both in how he teaches math and how he shows up for his students.
Much of Webber’s methods for both teaching and education are quite unorthodox. For example, Webber likes to remove the table that typically divides the teacher with the parent and student and arrange chairs in a semi-circle for parent-teacher conferences.
“The main reason why I do that is that I want everyone to feel like we’re all on an equal playing field,” he said.
That minor difference, he said, is “huge.”
“Because when everyone feels like they’re on the same page, and everyone’s in this circle, no one person will dominate a conversation. Everybody is sharing about what’s going on,” he said.
For many in the Canby School District community, Webber’s reputation proceeds him.
Renee Jimenez first heard about Webber through her son and other parents in the school district. She was most touched to learn how he would go the extra mile to provide a safe space for students.
“The success of our children and their unwavering confidence in math and school is his priority, and it shows through and through,” she said.
Webber fondly remembers growing up on a farm and spending much of his youth working on the farm with his twin brother, Mark. It’s where much of his hard work and collaborative ethos come from.
“Before we even got into high school, you know, we kind of developed, you know, a hard work ethic, I suppose. And all of us in the family still kind of carry that same work ethic,” he said.
Webber also takes that work ethic to the classroom and his community, spending any extra time to be available to parents and even helping students who aren’t his own.
Dawn Depner described Webber as “a trusted adult for many students.” She said his classroom was a place for her adopted daughter to go to, even though he was never her teacher.
“What I love about him is he really is a place for the students to go to. He’s got this special little way of making students feel welcome,” she said.
Webber spends much of his own money keeping his classroom stocked with food and snacks for any student who drops by.
Even though the district offers free and reduced lunches for any student who qualifies, Webber – speaking from experience coming from a family who needed food stamps — believes the paperwork and the process of getting on the social safety net programs can be overwhelming for some students and families. That’s why it’s important for him to create an environment where students can take whatever they need without shame.
“I know how it feels,” he said.